Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848

Questions of Life and Death

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 36;
Written: on June 3, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 4, June 4, 1848.

Cologne, June 3. The times are changing and we are changing with them. That is a short saying with which our Ministers Camphausen and Hansemann are also well acquainted. Oh, what they had to put up with from government officials and marshals[29] when they were still modest deputies sitting on the school bench of a provincial diet! And how they were kept on a leash like fifth formers in the Rhenish Provincial Diet by His Most Serene Highness, form-master Solms-Lich! Although they were permitted to indulge in a few exercises in elocution after they had been promoted to the sixth form, to the United Diet [30] how they were even then disciplined by their schoolmaster, Herr Adolf von Rochow, with the cane presented to him from on high! How meekly they had to take the impertinences of a Bodelschwingh, how attentively they had to admire the broken German of a Boyen, and how limited an understanding of a loyal subject they were obliged to display in face of the crude ignorance of a Duesberg!

Things have changed now. The 18th of March has put an end to all the pedantic political schooling and the pupils of the Provincial Diet have announced their graduation. Herr Camphausen and Herr Hansemann have become Ministers and are delighted to feel their great importance as “indispensable persons”.

Everybody that has come in contact with them has been made to feel just how “indispensable” they consider themselves to be and how audacious they have become since their release from school.

They immediately began to re-establish provisionally their old schoolroom, the United Diet. It was here that the grand act of transition from bureaucratic grammar school to constitutional university was to take place, the solemn presentation, with all due formality, to the Prussian people of their certificate of maturity.

The people declared in numerous memoranda and petitions that they did not want to have anything to do with the United Diet.

Herr Camphausen replied (e.g. during the session of the Constituent Assembly on May 30) that the convocation of the Diet was of vital importance to the Ministry and that was that.

The Diet met, a dejected, contrite assembly which despaired of the world, of God and of itself. The Diet had been given to understand that it was merely to adopt the new electoral law; but Herr Camphausen demanded of it not only a paper law and indirect elections, but also twenty-five million in cash. The curiae become confused, they begin to doubt their competence and stammer disjointed objections. There is nothing they can do, however, since after deliberation Herr Camphausen has made up his mind, and if the money is not granted and the “vote of confidence” is withheld Herr Camphausen will depart for Cologne and abandon the Prussian monarchy to its fate. The thought of such a possibility brings cold sweat to the foreheads of the gentlemen of the Diet, all resistance ceases and the vote of confidence is passed with a bitter-sweet smile. These twenty-five million — currency in the airy realm of dreams [Heinrich Heine, Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen] — clearly show where and how they were enacted.

The indirect elections are proclaimed. A wave of speeches, petitions and deputations rises against them. The ministerial gentlemen reply: the Ministry stands or falls with the indirect elections. After that everything becomes calm once more and both parties can go to sleep.

The Agreement Assembly [i.e. the Prussian National Assembly convened on May 22, 1848] meets. Herr Camphausen is resolved that an address should be made in reply to his speech from the throne. Deputy Duncker is to make the proposal. A discussion begins during which a pretty lively opposition to the address emerges. Herr Hansemann is bored by the everlasting, confused cross-talk of the clumsy assembly; it becomes unendurable to his sense of parliamentary tact and he declares curtly that they could be spared all this: either an address is forthcoming and in that case all is well, or no address is made and the Ministry resigns. Nevertheless, the debate goes on and finally Herr Camphausen himself steps up to the rostrum to confirm that the question of the address is of vital importance to the Ministry. Finally, when this also has no effect, Herr Auerswald also rises and asserts for the third time that the Ministry stands or falls with the address. The assembly was now sufficiently convinced and, of course, voted for the address.

Thus, our “responsible” Ministers have, within two months, already acquired that experience and self-possession necessary for the conduct of an assembly which M. Duchâtel, who certainly is not to be belittled, gained only after several years of intimate dealing with the last but one French Chamber of Deputies. For some time past M. Duchâtel, too, when the Left bored him with its lengthy tirades, used to declare: the Chamber is free to vote for or against, but we shall resign if it votes against. Thereupon, the timorous majority, for which M. Duchâtel was the “most indispensable” man in the world, flocked around its threatened ringleader like a flock of sheep in a thunderstorm. M. Duchâtel was a frivolous Frenchman and played this game until it became too much for his fellow countrymen. Herr Camphausen is a stalwart and composed German and he will know how far he can go.

Of course, one can save both time and arguments by this method if one is as sure of one’s supporters as Herr Camphausen is of the “agreers”. The opposition is pretty effectively silenced if every issue is made a question of confidence. That is why this method is most suitable for determined men like Duchâtel and Hansemann who know once and for all what they want and who find all further useless palaver unbearable. This little earthly expedient, however, as our Prime Minister will find out by experience, is not at all suitable for men with debating skills who love “to expound and exchange their views about the past, the present, and the future as well, in great debates” (Camphausen, session of May 31), for men who stand their ground on principles and grasp the meaning of current events with the acumen of philosophers, for elevated minds such as Guizot and Camphausen. He should let his Duchâtel-Hansemann handle such matters and keep to the more elevated sphere where we take such a delight in observing him.